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Could Your Teenager Have Borderline Personality Disorder? Characteristics, Signs and Symptoms of Teens with BPD

Updated on October 21, 2013

Characteristics of Borderline Personality Disorder

Borderline Personality Disorder is recognized as a relatively new personality disorder, and has a reputation for being extremely difficult to effectively treat. It is characterized by several distinct features, of which, difficulty sustaining relationships and intense extremes in mood and emotion lie at the heart. A highly negative self-image plagues the individual with Borderline Personality Disorder, causing pervasive patterns of self-defeating behaviors that naturally set up the Borderline to fail over and over again. As a result, most Borderlines experience intense levels of anger and depression from which they cannot seem to fully recover. Failure becomes a centralized theme in the life of the Borderline, almost like a self-fulfilling prophecy. Understanding the disease for what it is, and trying to get the Borderline into treatment as soon as possible will yield the best chance for you and your loved one to be able to successfully cope. Because it is difficult to distinguish some normal teen behaviors from those that would be extreme enough to be considered on the spectrum of a disorder, it is important to get your teen in to see a health professional quickly if you suspect they may have a personality disorder. Below you will find some questions that can help serve as a guide to determine if your teen has Borderline Personality Disorder.

Does Your Teen Have Trouble Sustaining Friendships?

This doesn't necessarily apply to the kid who simply prefers to be a "loner". It's a struggle for individuals with Borderline Personaity Disorder to maintain relationships. All relationships are affected--friends, family, co-workers, bosses--those with Borderline Personality Disorder are back and forth and upside down when it comes to relationships. Keep in mind, they can effectively maintain rapport with another individual if they perceive they are receiving enough validation. Otherwise, they typically lack the ability or understanding to be able to make a relationship work. It's very common to hear that a borderline can "turn it on and off" whenever they desire. This is extremely true to the point they may seem to have distinct personalities, although most likely this is not the case, although the tendency to dissociate is prevalent with the disorder. Appearing very superficial and sometimes quite calculating, relationships don't much to the Borderline, except as a means of personal validation. It isn't that they choose to be this way. The simple fact is that their behaviors are coping mechanisms and without help, they don't know any other responses to be able to escape the extreme pain they often experience. The Borderline can seem very disconnected and unable to form healthy attachments to others. They can lie, cheat and steal in front of your eyes and two minutes later deny it, then say I'm sorry twenty minutes later and expect that everything will be o.k. and wonder why you no longer trust them. Then, to top it all off, they will find a reason to blame their behavior on you. Many create a reality that exists only to them, and they live in that reality no matter what facts they are presented with.

Does Your Teen Have Intense Fluctuations in Mood?

Moodiness is a trait of teenagers, regardless, but individuals with Borderline Personality Disorder experience mood swings on a much higher level than the normal teen. Borderline mood swings should not be confused with behaviors induced by chemical imbalances like depression and bipolar disorder. Borderlines tend to become extremely angry and depressed, sometimes at the drop of a hat, but unlike diseases like bipolar disorder, there is a trigger. It may be something so small that no one else would even flinch, but to the Borderline it can seem and feel like the end of the world. If there isn't an environmental trigger that exists, a Borderline can quickly create something big enough in their own reality to send them into a downward spiral. Most of the time these intense moods will last just a few hours, or at the most a day, but the variations can happen quickly and often. To the onlooker, the intensity of anger or "moodiness" can seem quite unjustified in relationship to the circumstance, and most likely they are right. Although anger can often take center stage, it can be attitudes of indifference, spitefulness, meanness, joy, euphoria, passive-agressiveness, or just plain shutting down. No matter what the particular mood, rest assured that as a caretaker, deservedly or not, you will be made painfully aware of it.

Rules for Relationships with Borderlines

Does Your Teen Exhibit an Intense Fear of Being Alone?

Many Borderlines exhibit the disorder as a result of being abandoned. There are other reasons, as well, like inconsistent parenting or an event that causes post-traumatic stress disorder, but abandonment issues become centralized themes in the lives of almost all Borderlines. Divorce that results in the loss of a parent from a child's life, death of a parent--anything that creates a hole in the life of a Borderline turns the unresolved issue into a continued fear for the rest of their life. Borderlines fear abandonment to the point they will literally force people from their lives before they can be abandoned again. Hence, one of the biggest reasons Borderlines cannot maintain relationships becomes their inherent fear of abandonment. They can't comprehend their faultlessness in the original issue, and many times view themselves as completely bad, and quite unlovable. They tend to push people away, while at the same time holding onto them so closely they can't leave. They send very conflicting messages, and even though they may seem withdrawn, it could be a part of a manipulative attempt to get someone to notice them.

Does Your Teen Seem Very Immature for Their Age?

Events that create Borderline Personality Disorder tend to occur in children that are old enough to realize what is happening in their lives, but too young to comprehend the entirety of the situation. As a result, many times they become frozen at the stage of the tragedy, both emotionally and mentally. They hold on to the events that were occurring immediately prior to the tragedy with fervor. For instance, maybe your child was heavily involved in a particular sport when the other parent left the home. The child will hold on feverishly to that sport throughout their teen years and possibly beyond because it feels normal and good, and was occurring the last time your child's life felt normal and good to them.

Friendships may flourish with children younger than them, as well. Interestingly enough, because their emotional state freezes, as the Borderline ages, they can still relate to children the age they were at the time of the tragedy. You may see 15 year old teens having relationships with 9 or 10 year olds, and the relationships, unlike most others, can be somewhat successful. While most 15 year olds are beginning to be interested in romantic relationships and spending more time with older friends, the Borderline has difficulty grasping the interests that most others their own age are developing. Conversely, because the disorder carries an entire aspect of self-destruction with it, you may find your teen relating to individuals of any age that may somehow help carry on their pattern of self-destruction. These aren't true friendships, though.

Living With BPD

Does Your Teen Exhibit Black and White Thinking?

This one is pretty self explanatory. Borderlines exhibit very "either/or" patterns in thinking. For instance, your teen may want to attend a dance. If you begin to place limits on what they can wear, they may quickly decide that they don't want to go at all. It is an "all or nothing" type of behavior. Either I do what I want, or I do nothing at all. Borderlines also exhibit behavior splitting. With this type of behavior, they will demonize someone one minute, and then idolize them the next. There is no in-between. They can't rationalize that in-betweens even exist. They either absolutely hate you or they absolutely love you. This behavior can vacillate quickly, especially when you don't provide them with exactly what they want at any moment that they want it. They can make others feel intensely used and unappreciated.

BPD Documentary

Does Your Teen Have Lofty Ambitions and Make Plans They Could Never Follow Through On?

As seen with the concept of the Borderline setting up relationships to fail, Borderlines can also set themselves up to fail. It may be by creating elaborate goals that no person could ever accomplish, or it may be by attaching fictional constructs to their own reality. For example, Borderlines can take fictional concepts from a book or a movie and try to apply it to their own life as a problem solving mechanism. Most people realize that a coping mechanism in a movie may be so totally removed from real life that it could never work, but the Borderline will try to incorporate that same mechanism into their own life. It can cause setback after setback for the Borderline, but on the same token, it might allow someone to come in and rescue them. If it serves that purpose just once, the Borderline will soon make it part of a life pattern.

Borderline Personality Disorder

Does Your Teen Engage in Self-Destructive Behaviors on a Consistent Basis?

Because a Borderline can become so depressed and may view themselves as a horrible person, a key characteristic may be self-destructive behavior. Borderlines, even though emotionally immature, can be highly adept at lying and manipulation. Borderlines consistently live on the edge of criminal behavior, and impulsively engage in self-defeating, risky behavior. It may be sex, drugs and/or alcohol, or it may be lying cheating and stealing. Unfortunately, since the life of a Borderline becomes focused on survival rather than establishing meaningful relationships, and the Borderline typically has such low self-esteem, anything is game. Borderlines typically have such a negative self-image combined with such a high desire for attention that they tend to physically harm themselves. Suicide attempts are typical for the Borderline, as well as cutting. Borderlines may begin with feeble suicide attempts to gain attention, and later on succeed.

What BPD Feels Like

How to Get Your Borderline Teen Help

It is important to remember that all Borderlines do not experience all of the same signs and symptoms. There may be behaviors not listed here, or there may be combinations of behaviors that occur differently in a Borderline. Additionally, Borderline Personality Disorder may run concurrently with any one, or a combination of, several disorders. The important thing is getting your teen in to see a qualified professional as soon as possible. Since Borderline Personality Disorder is so difficult to treat and should be tested for, treatment started as early as possible seems to provide the most positive results. Treatments for other disorders can vary tremendously from effective treatment for Borderlines, and without the proper treatment, you may do more damage to your teen. Make sure you choose a medical professional experienced in dealing specifically with Borderline Personality Disorder. Marsha Linehan’s Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) is a popular choice for Borderline Personality Disorder treatment. Aaron Beck published Cognitive Therapy of Personality Disorders to show how his Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) could benefit individuals with Borderline Personality Disorder. Some mood stabilizing medications have been shown to help somewhat in alleviating the extreme of the behavior the Borderline is experiencing. has one of the most detailed and completely updated descriptions of Borderline Personality Disorder currently available and it is highly recommended that you utilize this resource to help in your search for information.

Keep in mind that while it is wonderful that you are taking the steps to get your teen the help they so desperately need, it is just as important that you take the time to educate yourself so that you are not pulled in to the Borderline's realm. Learn the things that are not your fault, and learn the signs of manipulation. One of the most powerful things you can do as a caregiver is to stop allowing negative behaviors to occur in your presence, and believe it or not, you can do it without a fight. You will find that many Borderlines will return with another approach, but each time you shut one type of behavior down, it is more likely they will return with an appropriate behavior. Chances are high they are attempting some passive-aggressive behavior to get what they want, but it is important that you are consistent. It doesn't matter if they come at you 28 different ways. Remain consistent and do not allow manipulation. Check out their statements and activities to determine truthfulness and do not be afraid to be forthright in what you will and will not allow in their behavior. It is imperative for your mental health that you take the time to thoroughly understand the disorder so that you can react appropriately and at the same time protect your own mental health. It can be exhausting and can feel hopeless living with a Borderline child, but you need to remember, most of their behaviors have nothing to do with you. It might feel like it sometimes, but it truly is stemming from their own fears and low self esteem. Keeping your emotions balanced throughout this time is of the utmost importance.


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    • profile image

      Jack Mason 4 years ago

      Thanks for this great info and a great hub! I have been looking for treatment facilities and I was recommended to this one. What do you think?

    • Naomi Rose Welty profile image

      Naomi Rose Welty 5 years ago from Savannah, GA

      Virtual Treasures, I appreciate the thought and effort you put into replying to my hub. I would like to point out that teens, on whom your hub is focused, are naturally self-involved even when they are mentally healthy, and often fall short of expressions of empathy. Add any personality disorder, and you've got a lot going on indeed.

      I am extremely concerned that you believe borderlines are incapable of empathy and are pretty much the same thing as narcissists. That simply is not true. A borderline, in the throes of panic, can be blind to another person's point of view. However, that does not mean the borderline is incapable of empathy. When not being told how bad, etc. they are, they are quite loving.

    • Virtual Treasures profile image

      Virtual Treasures 5 years ago from Michigan

      Hi Naomi.

      Thank you for reading and commenting. I'm sorry you were offended by any information in this hub, but unfortunately, manipulative behavior is very common in individuals with BPD, and many display narcissistic behaviors. Manipulation is one of the main criteria for DSM-IV diagnosis, so I wouldn't quite yet call it a misconception. Borderlines commonly exhibit manipulative behaviors to gain attention and receive validation. It isn't the same kind of manipulation you would see with sociopaths, but it is still manipulation. Linehan describes individuals with BPD as "poor manipulators". And you are right, it isn't a "cold" calculation, but it is calculated. With some individuals, it may even be done subconsciously. Regardless, to the individual it is directed toward, it looks and feels like manipulation. If you've ever been in contact with someone who doesn't have a very good construct of empathy, if any at all, and someone who becomes very angry and vengeful because they have a very skewed view of reality, whether they are subconsciously or consciously manipulative, deceptive and hurtful doesn't make a big difference to those their efforts are aimed at. They may not understand their own actions, but it takes some mental capacity to exhibit these behaviors, even if it while they are in a dissociative state. While calling the behaviors something else in treatment may prove to be beneficial in controlling biases from treatment staff, it doesn't help those of us who have to live through the behaviors.

      Because borderlines are so insecure and so self-involved, many don't understand what having a "two-way" relationship means, and focus on only what they are receiving from the relationship. They dont experience empathy. Relationships work two ways--they aren't supposed to revolve around the feelings of only one person. Please read the proposed changes for the DSM-V diagnosis here:

      What is occurring is an attempt to shift thought patterns of individuals in contact with people who have been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder to remove the stigma of borderlines being manipulative and hard to deal with. The thought is that the stigma causes negative reactions toward the individual by caregivers. Unforunately, from my own experience, the behavior I have experienced has been manipulative and it is easy for me to become angry with the behaviors. I continuously pull myself back from being angry with the way our family is treated and the damage that one individual can cause in not just an immediate family, but throughout the extended family, as well. It is hurtful and uncalled for. We pay almost daily for my step-daughter's mother's behavior and mental illness. Many borderlines will even describe themselves as being manipulative in order to get what they want. Hopefully removing the labels can make a difference in others' perceptions.

      Additionally, it is estimated that almost all individuals diagnosed with BPD have a co-occurring personality or mood disorder. Manipulation is a common symptom of several personality and mood disorders, and while the label of "manipulation" is being exchanged with other descriptors, the term is simply being transferred onto the individual experiencing the borderline's behavior as "experiences a feeling or perception of..." This, in itself, doesn't negate act of being manipulated. Again, I'm sorry if you are offended or slighted by anything that I have said. While I certainly don't claim to be an expert, and I would be more than happy to change any information that I've provided that isn't supported, I may rearrange the wording in the sentence that offended you so greatly. It is definitely not my intent to offend, but instead to make a truthful representation of not just the reality of the BPD victim, but the reality of the family, as well. Again, thank you for reading, and I'm very sorry if you left my hub feeling offended.

      From Wikipedia: Manipulation and deceit are viewed as common features of BPD by many of those who treat the disorder as well as by the DSM-IV.[14] [15] Some mental health professionals, however, caution that an overemphasis on these traits and an overly broad definition of "manipulation" can lead to prejudicial treatment of BPD sufferers, particularly within the health care system. [16]


      * James A, Berelowitz M, Vereker M. - Highfield Unit, Warnford Hospital, Oxford, England

      1996 Eur Child Adolesc Psychiatry - Borderline personality disorder: study in adolescence.

      "...high rates of interpersonal psychopathology, i.e., manipulation, devaluation, and a pervasive sense of boredom..."

      * Harvey SC, Watters MR. - Neuropsychology Service, Tripler Army Medical Center, Honolulu, USA.

      1998 Mil Med. - Medical treatment and discharge planning for a patient with a borderline personality

      "...This case study discusses a patient with substantial medical problems whose hospital course was further complicated by her borderline personality disorder. Difficulties related to this patient's hospital course included noncompliant, manipulative, and self-injurious behaviors..."

    • Naomi Rose Welty profile image

      Naomi Rose Welty 5 years ago from Savannah, GA

      You have some good information here, but I nearly didn't get past this extremely offensive, incorrect statement: "...they can deal with another individual if there is something beneficial in it for them. Otherwise, they typically have no desire to have to put even the smallest amount of effort into making a relationship work." I can't imagine where you got that. It sounds like you are describing someone with narcissistic personality disorder, which is not at all the same thing. Also, please drop the reference to borderlines being "manipulative." That is a common misunderstanding. If you know enough to quote Linehan, you should know enough to realize that borderlines are incapable of the calculation involed in manipulating people.

    • mandypoole profile image

      mandypoole 5 years ago from UK

      Hi, I am glad that you found my comments helpful. Have you an email address that I could send you a message about my experiences as I do not feel comfortable everyone seeing it on here, but I will be happy to message you in private. I will say though, that yes, recovery is possible if the sufferer gets the right help and support, and if they work hard at making changes in their life. DBT is def a worthwhile option, for me it stabilised me so much that I do not have the diagnosis anymore as I managed to learn how to communicate, how to behave, how to stop acting so quickly on my emotions and how how to find things in my life that would provide safety, routine, structure and positivity. I had been in therapy for years before DBT and none of it helped, it was only when I had the DBT that things 'clicked' as it was specifically for people like me and very focused on changing behaviours but at the same time validating my emotions.

      I certainly had love/hate relationships with the people around me, one minute idolising them, the next minute hating them. And yes I feel differently about them now, as I realise they were just trying to help me, but because none of us knew that I had BPD then , none of us knew how to treat it or what to do. We were all none the wiser,and I see now that at the time, I used to wonder why they kept going on at me and telling me not to act the way I was. I thought that if I used behaviours, then they would understand my feelings and help me. I simply did not have the skills to sit down and tell them why I was feeling the way I was! It seems simple now, but at the time, I really was none the wiser.

      Its great that you love your step daughter, she is certainly very lucky to have you, even if she does not show it! I think if I could give you one piece of advice it would be to validate her feelings and worth,because a lot of people with BPD have had people who haven't believed them, bullied them,lied to them, been abused, neglected etc, and people who have not tried to listen to them. I would be interested to hear more about your step daughter and your experiences as a family and am happy to share mine x

    • Virtual Treasures profile image

      Virtual Treasures 5 years ago from Michigan

      Wow, Mandy. How wonderful for you. There are so many questions I would like to ask you. My step-daughter needs this (DBT). We've had her in years of therapy and to hear this is amazing. I really want to help her be able to communicate what she needs. It is really hard now, because it is a lot of manipulative behaviors and it causes a lot of problems. I would give my left arm to be able to help her be happy. I HAVE to find someone around here who specializes in it. Her last therapist said she was a text book case, and then he retired. I hate being so personal, but hearing your story is really helpful. I had no idea that there was an actual recovery. Did you hate the people closest to you that were trying to aid in your recovery? Do you feel differently about them now? If you don't feel comfortable answering, that is o.k., too. I would never want to interfere, but I want my step-daughter (really, daughter because I love her so much and I want her to be successful in life and her own mother abandoned her) to be able to handle life and what it has to throw at her.

    • mandypoole profile image

      mandypoole 5 years ago from UK

      I did DBT myself and for me it was life changing. Having someone validate my feelings and really listen, helped me to stop unhelpful behaviours which I used to communicate how I was feeling. I was taught life skills and how to cope, which has proved to be successful in the treatment of BPD. After the DBT they took the BPD diagnosis away as I had recovered. Def recommend it, though it is a lot of hard work and you need to be ready to get better. Which area are you in? x

    • Virtual Treasures profile image

      Virtual Treasures 5 years ago from Michigan

      Excellent points, Mandy. Thank you for adding that information. Have you witnessed positive results with DBT? I would like to find someone in my area who is skilled in this therapy.

    • mandypoole profile image

      mandypoole 5 years ago from UK

      Your hub has many excellent points but would like to point out to people that although people with BPD often seem manipulative , they actually find getting people to do what they want extremely difficult. They struggle to communicate their needs and feel their opinions are worthless, so attempt 'manipulative behaviours'in a desperate attempt to fulfill their needs or get someone to listen to them. They lack the necessary social skills to communicate effectively. Learning new ways of communication by attending a DBT course can really help sufferers.

    • crystaljerke profile image

      crystaljerke 5 years ago


      Thanks for this great my elder daughter is also going through his teen age so it will help me to look after her.

    • Seeker7 profile image

      Helen Murphy Howell 5 years ago from Fife, Scotland

      Another excellent and very interesting hub. I had heard about this disorder but didn't know much about it. This hub certainly answered most of my questions and much more! This must be such a difficult illness to cope with for both the sufferer and their families.

      Excellent hub + voted up awesome!

    • The Odd Spartan profile image

      Christopher Rago 6 years ago from Hamilton, NJ

      Nice hub! You have some very valuable information here. Up/useful/interesting.